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Pharmacy Interventions Shown to Boost Meds Adherence

Walgreens store

Walgreens store in New Orleans, Louisiana (Musik Animal, Wikimedia Commons)

4 April 2016. Actions by community pharmacists and other customer-assistance programs at Walgreens pharmacies were shown to improve customers’ adherence to medications and reduce their health care costs. Results of the study conducted by health analysts at Walgreens appear in the 1 April issue of the journal Population Health Management.

The research team led by Michael Taitel, director of health analytics at Walgreens, sought to determine the impact, if any, of programs at Walgreens retail stores that aim to improve customers’ adherence to their prescribed medications. The authors note studies showing that only about half of individuals with chronic conditions take their medications as prescribed. In addition, non-adherence to medications is associated with increased hospitalization, progression of disease, and higher mortality.

Walgreens offers at many of its 8,173 retail stores a proactive program of customer counseling and medication therapy management, particularly for individuals starting drugs for the first time. Stores also provide for continuing customers, online and digital reminders to refill prescriptions and pick up their prescriptions once they’re filled. Earlier research indicates programs like those offered by Walgreens that aim to improve medication adherence can have some beneficial impacts.

The researchers conducted an analysis of electronic health records, with identifying information removed, in the databases of IMS Health, a data analytics company serving the health care industry. From these records, the team drew more than 528,000 records from February to July 2013, of which nearly 100,000 received at least one medication adherence intervention from a Walgreens retail store, and 428,000 who were contacted by other drug stores or not contacted at all.

From this sample, the team drew two sub-samples of 72,410 individuals each — in Walgreens and non-Walgreens groups — that were matched one-to-one based on demographics, clinical characteristics, and a number of baseline health care utilization and cost factors. The records were also matched according to 16 different types of prescription drugs covering heart, respiratory, metabolic, circulatory, and neurological conditions, then tracked for 6 months following the initial contact.

The results show customers who received medication adherence interventions from Walgreens stayed with their medications somewhat better than their counterparts, but also had better health outcomes and spent less money overall on their health care. Walgreens customers receiving counseling or reminders reported 3 percent better medication adherence than those in the comparison group. But the Walgreens intervention group also had 2 percent fewer hospital admissions, 3 percent fewer emergency room visits, and slightly fewer (0.5 on average) out-patient visits.

While these differences seem small, they were large enough to be statistically reliable. The differences also resulted in lower overall health care costs for Walgreens customers of about $226.00, particularly for out-patient visits and pharmacy costs: $120.00 and $92.00 less respectively.

Harry Leider, chief medical officer at Walgreens, says in a company statement, “Patients receiving a new chronic diagnosis and medication therapy are at very high risk for non-adherence to medication, and this important study demonstrates how a diverse set of pharmacy and digital interventions improves care while reducing total health care costs.”

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